Monday, October 4, 2010

Road corpses and other things

Road safety in Africa isn't the same as it is in the U.S. The roads are worse, the cars are worse, the drivers are worse, there are no crosswalks, there are only rarely sidewalks, the shoulder and the oncoming lane are often treated as the "other" lane, and pedestrians often treat all three spaces as walkways and living spaces. In other words, people get "knocked" quite a bit out here. I saw a newly dead body on the side of the road yesterday, the third time I've seen this in Africa and the second time this trip. Death is no less tragic out here, it's just a lot more common and is treated in a much more matter of fact sort of way.

Nothing impacts me quite like death and I'm fairly sure this goes for all of us. Seeing a body on the side of the road opens all of the doors in my mind and takes all of the words out of my mouth... I start wondering what I'm supposed to think and how I'm supposed to feel; I wonder about who they were and where they are now; I wonder about their family and friends and eventually the driver of what ever vehicle hit them. It's strange because I rarely feel too sad for the person in the gutter, not because I'm heartless, but because it's over for them. Whatever life was for them, what ever they did or tried to do, whatever joys and hurts formed them, it's over.

Few things make me question the afterlife like death. Heaven, hell, asleep, or nothing, it is beyond me to know (I'm talking practical/experiential not theological/belief). Wherever they are now it isn't here, here is done for them. For the rest of us though, here is still going on. For the family and friends, their lives will never bee the same. The true pain of death is felt by those that are still alive. For the driver, cleared or prosecuted, known or unknown, there is a dead body that will be in their memories and on their spirit until he or she dies. Even for the guy driving by in the taxi, that corpse is going to be alive in his thoughts and his minds eye like few breathing people ever will. That guy in the taxi will think about his own life and the inevitability of his death, not with fear or anxiety, but with a brief moment of clarity and knowledge. The knowledge that says, "some day that will be you, it may be the side of some road in Africa surrounded by strangers, or in some posh hospital caught in a loosing race with old age, but that will be you." It's this clarity that reminds you to wonder... about everything.

Religion is for the living, it tries to give us a structure to organize our thoughts, questions, hopes, and fears. On the other hand, the dead get Jesus. Either he is who he said he is and did what he said he did, which means he is everything; or he isn't and didn't which means he is nothing. Everything or nothing, when we die, we only get Jesus. I wish more of us lived in the constant reality of what the dead know. Religion is to help us cope, while Jesus is to help us live. Religion, politics, race, ethics, and culture only exists in the space that comes before death, while Jesus exists in the space that comes before as well as the one that comes after. Everything literally depends on Jesus. I wish I was better at living as if this were true.

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